This is all new to me, am I or aren’t I aphantasic

Having just watched a short video about someone with aphantasia it got me thinking about myself. I am 68 and up until now have never heard of this condition but I think that I may be aphantasic. When I close my eyes, nothing, a black, blank canvas, and if I try really hard I may see a vague or partial image but mostly nada. This may explain when, over the years, people have suggested trying visualisation techniques as a growth tool I have come away totally unimpressed. For me, it comprises of someone just talking. When I look out of a window then close my eyes I do not see an image of the view, whereas my wife sees the image clearly.

However, if asked to describe a place I have been to or lived in I have no difficulty walking through the place and describing it. I do not need to close my eyes, if I did I would not see anything, but I feel this is more about memory and impressions. On the other hand, I cannot bring faces to mind and only see/feel people in a remembered situation. I move on from experiences of death and departure with little difficulty even though they are dearly loved. At first, I thought I was somewhere along the autistic spectrum but I have a very good and well-developed empathy ability.

Dreaming however is vastly different, for me when I fall asleep it is like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. It is a new, often unsettling and surreal, world where I not only see clearly in glorious technicolor but can smell, feel, taste, and hear perfectly, they are incredibly vivid and lucid. This sounds amazing but quite frankly it is exhausting as I don’t seem to get much deep sleep and wake up tired and sometimes disorientated. My wife does not dream like this. Once awake those dreams soon fade and I can no longer recall their details.

I cannot draw well unless I have something to copy but I am an artist that works in collage, not abstract but figuratively. Mostly, though, I draw with words I have written a few short stories but I prefer the medium of poetry, not about nature or beauty, but humorous, idea-driven, verse. I realise now that pastoral poetry is not my style because I can’t visualise it. I am great with words, can solve problems and puzzles and I love reading. Due to my discovering aphantasia I now realise why I skip or glaze over when I come to long descriptive passages. I just don’t see them.

Am I aphantasic, I can’t visualise, I have vivid dreams, I can’t picture faces, I would love to know?

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All of what you wrote fits aphantasia. I take it that the dreams are the thing that’s making you question whether you have it. Aphantasia is an inability to have voluntary visualizations. Dreams and hallucinations are involuntary visualization; those are controlled by a different process, so people with aphantasia can dream and have hallucinations. And while visual people might use visual memory to describe places and give directions, aphantasic people tend to use spacial and conceptual memory to do that; we can accomplish the same thing through different, non-visual means. So yes, your aphantasia sounds very clear-cut to me. 🙂 


Just a note, I’m also autistic, as is my spouse and a bunch of people we know, and we all have tons of empathy. The problem is we don’t always know how to show it, and when people don’t see the expected outward expression, they assume we don’t care, even though we care a lot. When I don’t know what’s the right thing to say, I often end up not saying anything. I also can’t do facial expressions, so I usually just look “neutral” even when I’m feeling strong emotions. The idea that autistic people lack empathy was based on outside observers looking at non-verbal kids who couldn’t tell them what they were actually feeling and thinking on the inside. Newer studies (and better communication aids for non-verbal kids) have found that our empathy is unusually high and can be overwhelming.

I think the single most helpful thing for me, was taking a first aid course, followed by a PFA course (psychological first aid, for helping with emotional trauma) because they tell you exactly what to say to someone who’s hurt, so there’s none of that internal “oh no, oh no, what do I say? what do I do? how can I help?” while standing there frozen with indecision and with a neutral expression like nothing’s going on. I still can’t do facial expressions, but they’ve taught me words and actions to express the empathy I was already feeling. … I’m also reminded of this:
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Hi Kes thank you for your reply. It is absolutely amazing to be able to get to the age of 68 without realising that when most people are told to close their eyes and imagine something they actually see a picture. It’s crazy. I have experienced something similar as I am red/green colour blind, I have stopped telling people this as their first reaction is to keeping asking the same question – pointing at something and say ‘What colours is this’. Tedious. So perhaps if I mention my aphnatasia they will starting asking why can’t you see an elephant/apple/Eiffel Tower/Grand Canyon etc when you close your eyes. I think I might just reply that it is always nighttime when my eyes are closed.

Thank you for your input about autism it is such a misunderstood but also incredible interesting condition and I have now updated some of the misconception I have had. I have done a few online test and I always ended up with a result that I am not on autistic spectrum. There is something fascinating between the corellation of autism and aphantasia where outsiders make the mistake of seeing indifference, lack of emotion, etc where there isn’t any. Both are as emotional and mentally healthy but show it in a far more different and subtle way. Much more needs to be done to educate the world on this.

Anyway, that is how I feel and I am glad that I don’t have to try anymore visualisation exercises so when I don my headphones and play the sound of waves crashing on the shore I won’t be upset that I can’t see that.

According to recent studies of aphantasia, the appearance of bright or dim images while awake is associated with the activity of two areas of the brain: the visual cortex (in the back of the head) and the prefrontal cortex (behind the eyes). The prevalence of activity in the visual cortex contributes to brighter visualization; the prevalence of prefrontal cortex activity reduces the visualization brightness , even to zero. During sleep, the activity of the prefrontal cortex naturally decreases, which may explain the brightness of uncontrolled dreams. The question is how to learn to control it.

Definitely a reborn aphantasis with lots of lovely research and discovery before me. No problem with inability to visualise as I have got to wear I am without needing it. Could do with a bit less of the lucid, HD, impressive but oppressive dreaming and a bit more of the deep deep sleep. 

Hi Tony, Yes, I’ve learned a lot of surprising things too, and I find the great variety of experiences fascinating. “It’s always nighttime” is a good way to describe aphantasia. I heard someone else describe it in a similar way, which also underlined the difference between imagination and visualization, something along the lines of, “I have a conceptual imagination, so if you say ‘think of an apple on the table’ then I know there’s an apple on the table, but I can’t see it because the room is dark.”

Autism is a bit of mixed bag, and sometimes it seems like the negatives outweigh the positives, but I can’t think of any downside to aphantasia. Trying meditation was a very frustrating experience, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t need visualizations. I can get to where I want to be in life without that. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything important. On the other hand, some of the things I’ve read suggest that aphantasia may be responsible for the innate tendency to “be in the present moment” and notice the world around me, and I consider that a valuable trait. So, definitely not a bad thing! 

I also love the sound of waves crashing on the shore, and don’t need to see it to appreciate it. 🙂

Hi Kes I agree I don’t think I am missing anything important as I would have surely noticed before. When I close my eyes it’s a blank but my mind isn’t. Looking forward to discovering more. Here is a poem I just wrote.

I close my eyes but see only night
No magical visions come to sight
Can’t conjure a moonrise
There are no stars in my eyes
Just dark grey blurred charcoal
ebony black dark hole
Where all my visions are drawn
Strangled before they are born


Here is the twist

I still exist

I don’t really care 

that visions aren’t there


Well, I’m 68, too, and have only just discovered the concept of aphantasia. And some of the rest of your experience sounds much like mine, too.

I had always assumed that everyone, including myself, could summon up images from the vasty deep. When I saw the expression “mind’s eye”, I assumed that I could see things with it.

In a sense, I could, and can. If I try to visualise a place or person I know, something comes up on the mental screen. But it’s not an image. It seems to be more like a computer programme for producing an image. I know what the image should look like, but I can’t see it. And this surprises me immensely.

I’m not sure that moving on from death or other losses is really linked to aphantasia but, like you, I have no difficulty whilst still feeling deep empathy with living people, and emotional links even with the departed.

My dreams too are vivid and visual, and I find that some of my most vivid images are those that occur in a half-waking state, when I’m either falling asleep or waking up.

But we seem to have differences, too. I am fine with long descriptive passages in literature. I can sense them, but not visualise them as an image, only as a set of instructions for an image. And, when it comes to art (I make no claim to talent), I find it relatively easy to draw an image from memory or imagination. It’s just that I don’t see it until I start drawing.

And one thing is certain. I do have an almost constant internal monologue/dialogue which takes the form of words that I hear and, even though I am incapable of singing in tune, I can hear music in my head until it drives me crazy.

This is a fascinating subject!